Gaza’s Energy Pioneer helps keep Palestinian Lights On.
Majd Mashharawi developed the Sunbox solar energy system to help
provide low-cost energy in besieged Gaza.
Having no extra money to take a taxi or ride a bus has never stopped Samar from getting her child to the hospital – it was a matter of keeping her son alive. Walking under Gaza’s blaring sun or having to contend with stormy weather was just what she had to do. Because of a lung condition, Samar’s son, aged nine, had to undergo daily oxygen treatments. Doing them at home was risky, as the electricity was too unreliable to trust it with a matter of life and death. Then in June last year, Majd Mashharawi, a Palestinian energy entrepreneur, installed a prototype of the solar power system she has pioneered into Samar’s home. “Now, I don’t have to worry every day whether I can go to the hospital,” Samar said. “I do not have to run anymore to be on time.”
“It’s saving lives,” said Mashharawi, 25, proudly from her office in Gaza City. The civil engineer is the CEO of Sunbox, a three-component system that is made up of a solar panel, a generator, and a battery, and is marketed as a sustainable and affordable solution to Gaza’s energy crisis. With Sunbox installed, it allowed the hospital to set up an oxygen tank in Samar’s home, giving her the freedom of no longer having to walk her son to the hospital for treatment.
According to Majd, the system is about using the resources that Gaza has in abundance, such as sunlight. An important part of what the business does is to educate the families “about solar energy and how to use it within each package we provide”.
And the Palestinian businesswoman has just had some good news. SunBox was awarded a tender from the aid organisation Action Against Hunger to install photovoltaic (PV) solar systems for 10 desalination plants over Gaza Strip.
Green Cake’s Market
It’s a reward for hard work and determination for the young businesswoman, who first made a name with a project using the adversity faced by Gaza, under an Israeli-imposed siege for 12 years, to find energy solutions for its struggling population. Her first project, “Green Cake”, sought to turn wood and coal ash into construction bricks. The plan was to rebuild the structures destroyed in the last three devastating Israeli assaults on Gaza. Though they created almost 30 jobs, built just under 40 buildings and sold over 50,000 blocks, the project struggled to maintain its market in Gaza. She has now expanded Green Cake’s market by looking towards buyers in Dubai and the US, but Majd is convinced that Sunbox will be more successful. In the last quarter of 2018, they had installed over 80 systems across Gaza, giving electricity to 800 people, and the number is rising. “Now it is almost one thousand people. We provided for houses, small business and big companies.” Since winning the tender of an international Spanish NGO, she expects to hit revenues of $400,000 in 2019. For 2020-2021, she expects $1m by penetrating markets in the West Bank and South Africa. To date, they have built systems for a commercial mall in Gaza called Alulu and the transportation company Abu-Olba. The 20 percent earned from these tenders feeds healthy discounts to families in the Strip, sometimes even up to 100 percent of all costs. “Many families, I’ve seen them change just from having a solar system installed. You are giving light, you are giving hope for these people,” Majd said.
Majd’s solar package not only scales down the benefits of a larger solar farm, it is also comparatively inexpensive. The cheapest model runs at $350 and allows a family to charge laptops and phones, run small electricals, and have light for up to 12 hours per day. The second starts at $600 and does the same but can supply up to 20 hours and power large appliances such as refrigerators. Majd said that the company can provide as many combinations of batteries and generators as needed with an increasing price structure.
Independent from the Grid
One of the main attractions is the payment system, where households can spread the cost of the device over a number of years. The driving force behind the flexible approach is a solution to an electric grid which is dependent on politics. “We wanted to keep it totally independent from the grid,” Majd says. “It’s ridiculous, it’s getting worse: Israel targeted the main power plant in Gaza to put pressure on the government. We want people to be independent of these political issues.” Traditionally seen as a male-dominated industry in Gaza, many were surprised at Majd’s choice to become an engineer. Success has not been an easy road. “It’s very hard to be the first. If you were a man, everyone would clap for you,” she said. Yet she remains hopeful of how small businesses can transform lives.
In 2006, Israel destroyed Gaza’s only power plant, worsening the humanitarian crisis. In the 2014 war on Gaza, Israel shelled the power plant again, on a heavy day of bombardment and fighting that killed at least 100 people. The wars and siege have left Gaza dependent on the limited energy supplied by the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority (PA).
(Extracted from middleeasteye.net)